The 201 members of the Legislature and Gov.-elect Tim Walz will bring their own priorities to the State Capitol after Walz is sworn in Monday and the legislative session starts Tuesday. Here are topics that will likely be at the center of much of the debate in the 2019 legislative session.
Building the budget
State legislators and Walz will spend much of this session developing the budget for 2020 and 2021, which is projected to be around $47.5 billion.
The incoming governor has a Feb. 19 deadline to debut his budget plan, and the following month lawmakers will come up with their own spending targets.
State budget officials recently estimated Minnesota will have a budget surplus of about $1.5 billion. However, the projection could change and final budget decisions will be based on an updated February forecast.
Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas for how to spend that money. Republicans credited their budget work for the surplus and said there should be further tax relief. House Ways and Means Chairman Lyndon Carlson, D-Crystal, urged caution on spending proposals and said they will have to carefully consider long-term financial commitments, given expectations of an economic slowdown.
Health care costs
Walz aims to expand access to MinnesotaCare so any Minnesotan could buy into the program. Only residents in a certain lower income range are eligible now.
Republican legislators have said a buy-in would burden medical providers and rural hospitals. Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee chairwoman, said an expansion of MinnesotaCare would undermine the individual market. She wants to look into direct primary care, where individuals can contract with their doctor and pay a monthly flat fee.
Benson also wants to focus on investigating fraud.
Her DFL counterpart on the House committee, Rep. Tina Liebling, D-Rochester, does not want to extend the reinsurance program that expires in 2020, which gave insurers money to help keep premiums down. She sees a MinnesotaCare buy-in as a potential solution for people struggling with costs.
Varied tax plans
Legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton failed to reach an agreement last year on how to align the state and U.S. tax codes, and the debate over tax code changes is expected to continue throughout the session.
There is a looming deadline to decide whether to reinstate a 2 percent tax on health care providers that will sunset at the end of this year. It is projected to generate $671 million in 2019, according to Minnesota Management and Budget. Walz’s proposal to increase the gas tax will also be a lightning rod. House Taxes Committee Chairman Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said he would only support a gas tax if it’s one piece of a comprehensive transportation funding package.
Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who shifts to minority leader Tuesday, oppose a gas tax increase. They suggested tax cuts, including cuts to state taxes on Social Security and a child care tax credit.
Special education will be a big piece of the school funding puzzle, as schools struggle with the federal government’s failure to meet funding goals in that area.
Walz has called for “fully funding” education, though Senate E-12 Finance Chairwoman Carla Nelson said that idea needs to be fleshed out. “There’s just never enough money to fund all the things we want,” said Nelson, R-Rochester. She wants a more targeted approach to paying for preschool programs, while Walz and many Democrats want universal pre-K.
Walz has also advocated for two years of free tuition for college students who meet income qualifications. House Education Finance Chairman Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis, said he wants to ensure high school students statewide have access to opportunities to get college credit while in high school. Davnie, along with many Democrats and Republicans, wants to promote career and technical education.
Guns, school safety
Money for schools to hire counselors and safety staff was vetoed last session, but will be an early focus this year, said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, adding, “We can’t afford to wait.”
Gun control supporters, one of the most visible advocacy groups at the Capitol last year, planned a rally on the opening day of session. They want legislators to pass “red flag” protection orders and require people to get a permit to buy guns through private sales.
“I really don’t want to give hearings to extreme ideas from the left or from the right. I’m only interested in ideas that actually have solutions,” said Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.
But Rep. Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, who will lead the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee, said a red flag law is “a straight-up common-sense approach to maximizing public safety.”